Monday, April 27, 2009

Impressions from IEEE RFID in Disney World/Orlando

I just got the chance to visit the IEEE RFID conference since together with Mikko, a Ph.D. student of ours, we were presenting two papers at this event in the area of RFID security [1][2].
It was quite striking to see how this conference grew. IEEE RFID has received 175 submissions whereof 47 had been accepted and presented in three tracks.

The conference was opened by a keynote from Chris Diorio, co-founder of Impinj and assistant professor at UW. After pointing out the history of the developments concerning UHF RFID he drew some interesting conclusions with regards to future challenges and research. Firstly, as development of RFID initially mainly aimed at replacing barcodes, security and privacy aspects had been neglected at first and only came in later. However, in his perspective especially privacy is not as bad as suggested, it is not primarily research, it rather has a lot do with media and education. Thus, researchers should rather focus on security technology, but the problem of privacy as such is not really research. It is about perception and should be solved by education.
Secondly, he mentioned reader zone confiment as a major research challenges. Today, it still is the number one reason for end-users users to give up with RFID when they do not manage to only read tags in the intended zone instead of random others due to artifacts stemming from the environment, e.g. reflection.

There was an interesting presentation about the development of a 2.4Ghz tag readable by a mobile phone's antenna [3]. This work really broadened the perspective of reading UHF and HF tags as we have discussed earlier [4] and even allows to remotely power sensors sitting on the passive tag by the emitting mobile phone. This work is part of the EU project Mimosa.
Another remarkable paper was presented by Rahul Bahattacharyya from the Auto-ID Lab at MIT and was about how to use RFID tags to sense displacement [5]: the basic idea is to place a metal plate in front of an RFID tag attenuating its power backscatter. The paper proves the idea in an experimental set-up by showing the monotonical relationship between power backscatter and distance from tag to the metal plate.
Another paper, awarded with the best-paper awared and presented by Alansson Sample [6], took a similar direction of turning the properties of bad tag performance under certain conditions into a benefit for sensing a specific phenomenon. He made use of the fact that users touching a dipole antenna of an RFID tag add capacity which slows down the tag's discharge behaviour. Accordingly, this effect can implement a power-free touch-based interface. Suggested applications could be powerless switches, remote controls and alike. The very same effect of changed capacity could be also applied to sense the presence of liquids with RFID tags.

Finally, the conference organizers also managed to really apply RFID for some practical purposes. First of all each conference badge contains a tag which can be read by exhibitors to collect your adress. It's convenient for them but from an interaction perspective it feels kind of odd when you look into an RFID 'gun' and get 'shot'. Second, if visiting a course of three vendors' booths one could win a video camera. You collected one RFID tag at each vendor and only if you had all three tags together the reader at the last station let you enter into the lottery. Nothing ground breaking but deployed...

Ariving in Orlando I was surprised that public transport actually was not that bad. They have buses every half hour into different directions, even an express one ( no. 111) directly to Disney. 40km for 2$ - not a bad deal. The little handsight of course, it's a little hard to find out where the buses depart and they end at the 'central ticket center' where private Disney buses take you to the hotel. When asking at the hotel where I could catch the public bus back to the airport they were really puzzled: "Public bus!? - never heared of that, you' re the first person asking for, unfortunately we don't have an affiliation with them!". This again shows that for successful logistics transportation and information have to go together...

[1] Lehtonen, M., Michahelles, F., Fleisch, E.: How to Detect Cloned Tags in a Reliable Way from Incomplete RFID Traces. In the IEEE RFID 2009 Conference, Orlando, Florida, April 2009.
[2] Lehtonen, M., Ruhanen, A., Michahelles, F., Fleisch, E.: Serialized TID Numbers – A Headache or a Blessing for RFID Crackers? In the IEEE RFID 2009 Conference, Orlando, Florida, April 2009.
[3] Yann Tétu, Iiro Jantunen, Bertrand Gomez, Stephanie Robinet:Mobile-phone-readable 2.45 GHz Passive Digital Sensor Tag. In the IEEE RFID 2009 Conference, Orlando, Florida, April 2009.
[4] T. Wiechert, F. Thiesse, F. Michahelles, P. Schmitt, E. Fleisch: Connecting Mobile Phones to the Internet of Things: A Discussion of Compatibility Issues between EPC and NFC, Americas Conference on Information Systems (AMCIS), Keystone, Colorado, USA, 2007, [PDF].
[5] Rahul Bhattacharyya, Christian Floerkemeier, Sanjay Sarma: Towards Tag Antenna Based Sensing – An RFID Displacement Sensor. In the IEEE RFID 2009 Conference, Orlando, Florida, April 2009.
[6] Alanson Sample, Daniel Yeager, Joshua Smith: A Capacitive Touch Interface for Passive RFID Tags. In the IEEE RFID 2009 Conference, Orlando, Florida, April 2009.

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